ERNIE HAGAR - IN MEMORIAM
is with an extreme sadness that we learned of Ernie Hagar's passing
on April 10, 2006. His longtime friend, Ed Guthero, who was responsible
for the wonderful design of his 'Man Of Steel' CD, broke the news on
April 13 :
'It is a shock to everyone as Ernie was still living at home and had
been working, but had long been dealing with lung cancer that had been
on hold for eleven years. He just didn't want anyone to know or feel
sorry for him. Recently he sent me an e-mail saying, "I think the
cancer decided it was time to get serious . . . I had much more fun
in life than I deserved. Mentally I'm in a good place. No worries, none!"
Ernie appreciated greatly the way you respected his music and honored
him on your website. In the last few months, Ernie was actually practicing
his steel in the hopes of coming to Nashville in summer to do some studio
sessions with my friends Kathy Ballie and her band, Ballie and the Boys.
We talked about doing 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' and some other swing-style
songs including a music video. Recently Ernie wrote and said that he
didn't feel he could do the sessions, but he really wanted to and he
told me he was going to tell you he was planning on going to go back
into the studio if this worked out.'
The funeral service was conducted on Saturday,
April 15, 11:00 am in Caldwell, Idaho at the
Canyon Hill Cemetery.
During the service, several tributes were read, including mine and Ed
Guthero's which follows :
'Ernie Hagar ranks as one of the all-time great steel guitar players.
He’s graced the stage with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers,
Ringo Starr, Merle Haggard, Don Everly, Larry Hosford, Freddy Powers,
Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare, Roger Miller, Frank Sinatra, and many other
legendary names. He’s recorded in the studio with Beatle George
Harrison. Ernie played on an estimated 1,400 recording sessions and
began his career as a 15-year-old musical television star in his native
In the mid 1970’s, as a member of Commander Cody and the Lost
Planet Airmen, the seminal country/rock/swing/jazz fusion band, Ernie
played in huge arenas seating many thousands. Music critics wrote things
like, “Hagar may have the shortest hair in the band, but he also
has the hottest licks,” and "Hagar has his own style . .
. I don’t know how to describe it, but the result is beautiful,
tasteful . . . its still difficult not to be in awe of Hagar.”
Guitar Player Magazine, the ultimate musician tribute, wrote a story
on him calling his unique stylings a “breath of fresh air.”
He was featured in filmmaker Robert Altman’s heralded rock documentary
“Starmaker Machinery” and the acclaimed book by the same
name. He was an exceptionally gifted musician, producer, and instrumental
songwriter. In a demanding field, Ernie Hagar was a mega talent.
I met Ernie in 2000 when he asked me to design a new double CD package
compilation of his precious instrumental vinyl recordings. He was 61
at the time.
I remember sitting across the table from him at an office in Nampa,
Idaho as he handed me a scrapbook that his wife had compiled. Inside
were article clippings and photos. I took one look at them, and being
a guitar player myself, realized that I was sitting across from the
real deal. He was wearing his familiar captain’s hat, jeans, cowboy
boots, and his beard was close-cropped. There was a dignity and quiet
enthusiasm in his manner.
When he realized I was familiar with the publications and groups he’d
played with, he smiled and seemed surprised. We ended up having a great
conversation, and the CD turned out to be one of my favorite design
projects. It was a joy to work with Ernie Hagar and I made a long-term
friend that day.
Ernie originally told me he just wanted to use the older photos, where
he appeared younger, on the CD folder. I kept telling him he looked
pretty cool now with the beard and captain’s hat. Finally he let
me take some new photos following a recording session at Cunningham
Audio in Boise. The new photos ended up on the back and inside the new
CD—“Ernie Hagar: Man of Steel, the Classic Stylings of a
Steel Guitar Master.” Some classic country radio stations started
playing Ernie’s music again, and once again the praise came. Also
a great CD Ernie had co-produced and played on by Nevada singer Ross
Lewis began to get chart action in 2002. Ernie continued to live quietly
in Caldwell, Idaho and drive the Union Pacific route out of Nampa. Few
people realized his background.
The Ernie Hagar I knew the past 6 years wasn’t playing sessions
with George Harrison or touring the country in concert. It would have
been fun to see him play back then, but Ernie Hagar was much more than
a world-class musician. He was a true friend, someone that did his best
toward the task at hand. He liked his job at Union Pacific, and enjoyed
the camaraderie of his co-workers. As a kid in high school, Ernie was
an old ice-hockey goalie back in Ottawa, being a fellow Canadian that
was something else I liked about him.
He had a wonderful sense of humor, and irony, and he could always look
on the bright side of things. He was an encourager. He kept keeping
About 3 ½ years ago my business had some tough breaks and after
18 years in Idaho I took a teaching job in Tennessee. It was a difficult
time of transition, but Ernie wrote a number of times and encouraged
me. We kept in touch by exchanging letters, books, and music. These
letters meant a great deal to me. He cared.
Last summer Ernie confided that he had cancer, that it was in a holding
pattern, and he was able to work and felt no pain. He didn’t want
people to know and asked that I not tell anyone. He didn’t want
people to feel sad for him. Yet Ernie kept keeping on and it seemed
like he would go on for a long time.
Ernie was sensitive and a keen observer of life. Life fascinated him
even through the tough times. He seemed to see the blessings in everyday
things and quietly hung in there. He had a background in civil engineering
and electronics. He had a sharp mind and intellect.
In January and early March we visited and had dinner while I was on
trips to Idaho. We talked about the possibility of Ernie playing steel
guitar on some upcoming spring Nashville recording and video sessions
with singer Kathie Ballie and top session players. Ernie was very open
to the idea, smiled and shook my hand—that old enthusiasm twinkled
in his eyes. He quietly went back to taking out his steel guitar at
home and “woodshedding” licks (as he called his practice
Ernie was 67, but there always seemed to be a touch of that boyish,
enthusiasm about him. The Canadian kid who left Ottawa and arrived in
Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus in 1960 following his dreams. He got
off the bus, went to a phone booth and called steel-guitar maestro,
Speedy West--his idol. West came down and picked up his young prodigy;
within two weeks Ernie was recording and touring with Roy Rogers and
The Sons of the Pioneers.
Last month when we had dinner in a Nampa restaurant, Ernie was still
amazed at it all as he told me the story. He laughed and said, “I’ve
been a lucky guy.”
In an email last week, Ernie wrote, “I don’t want you, or
anyone, to feel bad for me. I had much more fun in my life than I deserved.
Mentally I’m in a good place. No worries—none.”
Ernie was a wonderful conversationalist with a wisdom about him that
I appreciated. He had seen a lot of life, had done a lot of reflecting.
He felt his life was a rich one. He spoke fondly of his music, his wife,
and all the years he’d had. Ernie was a special person, a true
One of the best ways we can remember and honor Ernie, is to listen to
the wonderful music he’s left us on records and CD—intricate,
highly-energized, focused, and sophisticated music. It has a sense of
joy, makes you feel good. It is very much a reflection of the man.
Thank you, Ernie. God bless Ernie Hagar.' Ed
Guthero * Collegedale, Tennessee * April 12, 2006
friend of Ernie's sent me this e-mail :
'My name is Ernie Cody. I have been a good friend of Ernie Hagar's for
the past three years.
In my many conversations with Ernie he was so appreciative of what you
have done for him on the internet and to help convey his talented career.
As you know, he was a colorful character yet rather shy about promoting
He spent Thanksgiving with me and my family last year. I am glad to
have had the chance to know Ernie. We went to some musical performances
and told many a big tale over a cold beer. He will be missed greatly
by the people here who knew him. His CD plays at the Dutch Goose here
in Caldwell. It is his favorite watering hole.
He made a picture book of articles and rare photos of his career and
a VHS tape of some of his early performances for me. As per his request,
I will write to the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and ask now that they
consider his induction. He was too proud to have it done while he was
around and even chewed me out when I suggested it.
I hope you will also say a prayer for this great man. He brought a lot
of pleasure to a lot of people through his music but mostly through
his great love of other people. God bless.'
Ernie Cody * April
Stutz from Edmonds, WA, wrote in June 2011 :
'I just found your site and learned of Ernie's death. I am saddened
as he touched my life in 1973. On February 7 that year, I turned 21
and walked into a club in Santa Cruz CA called the Sail Inn and saw
Ernie playing steel with the Allen Brothers band. I was playing guitar
in a blues band at the time and had never seen a steel or heard one
played like that. He had a Sho-Bud and was playing through a black face
Twin Reverb with a single Altec Lansing 15 inch speaker in it. I loved
it. I got to talking with him, and it turned out he was giving lessons
and selling steels at the local guitar store. I bought a double 10 Sho-Bud
from him and took a couple of lessons. A year later, Ernie left the
Sail Inn, a six night a week gig. I had been hanging out in the bar
and knew the band. I got hired when Ernie left, not because I could
play, but because I was the only guy in town who had a steel and could
tune it ; besides, I worked cheap ! I played the club six nights a week
for a year. I got better, but I always heard Ernie in my ears. I knew
I would have to work very hard to even get close to his playing. He
was a great steel player who was very kind to a young kid, and very
generous with his time and knowledge.'
I'd also like to thank his wife, Jopie, for her unfailing support, Mr. Richard Robinett (who
used to work for Ernie as a gardener) and Pastor James Porter (of Caldwell
Free Methodist Church) who provided me with the photos of Ernie's grave
Says Richard : 'Ernie is buried on a hill overlooking
the Boise River with foothills in the distance. It is a lovely setting.'
As you all know, Ernie's official site is part
of The Big V Jamboree - a privilege I'll forever be proud of.
I must say that Ernie's death dealt me a terrible blow because, like
Hank Penny and Speedy West, Ernie had that 'something special' about
him that made his talent even more impressive : he was humble, friendly
and full of humor. His music was pure magic ; it went directly to one's
soul. Like all those great artists & musicians, he could not imagine
how important his Art was to us but was so happy to hear all the positive
feedback that his web pages generated over the years. He replied to
everybody who sent him e-mails and believe me, I did forward him a nice
bunch ! He used to tell me : 'You are now my connection to the rest
of the world !' Ernie Hagar was like a member of the family ; he never
failed to inquire about my wife and children in his messages. He had told me about his cancer way before he informed anybody else - including his own family. His humanity
was as huge as his musical talent : to me, that's the ultimate compliment.
Ernie, we'll always keep you in our prayers. Paul
VIDAL * Privas, France